THERE was a sense of curiosity in the air at Dashville Skyline on Saturday when Ahlia Williams walked onto the stage at noon.
Who was this young woman dressed in white footy shorts and singlet, black boots and red lipstick?
Among the usual Skyline crew of alt-country musicians in their cowboy hats, chequered shirts and skinny jeans, Williams almost appeared alien.
And when the Newcastle artist plugged in her guitar and snarled into the microphone, anyone nursing a post-hangover coffee was jolted to attention.
Over the next 40 minutes the crowd built up as it became apparent that this 21-year-old from Nords Wharf possessed an intensity that's impossible to ignore.
Williams ripped through R-rated stories of sexual violence, revenge, lust and gender politics, backed by her visceral garage rock guitar and Reuben Alexander's steady drumming.
It was a sound more New York than Nashville. More Patti Smith than Dolly Parton. At times Williams smiled and shook her hips, and at others, she raged and gesticulated at the crowd as her voice rose from a spoken-word whisper to a throat-tearing shriek.
"I can be calm and have my head screwed on but I have a side of me, which I've had since I was little, that's this ADD energy almost that I can't contain," Williams said of her performance.
"I've always had a lot of energy and fire inside me. Not just physically, but mentally as well. It can be used for good and for bad, but I've figured out how I can use it and expel it and that's through our performance.
"There's people at the pub who have the exact same thing I have, but they might king hit someone and go to jail, but I've figured out how I can use it and go on stage and it's literally a release and then I get off."
The confronting performance style was developed over six years of scrapping away for recognition.
"I was genuinely ignored for ages and it was really deflating," she said. "That's why it's taken me six years to work out what I'm going to do.
"I've given up heaps of times. I wrote my first song at 15 or 16, but I've stopped for a year or two.
"I've played gigs and put my guitar in its case and gone, 'What the f--k am I doing? Nobody listens to me. Everyone thinks I'm f--king crazy'."
It's fitting that Dashville Skyline was Williams' coming out party. Since the festival's inception in 2015 she has been a regular fixture in the audience.
A pivotal meeting occurred last year when she bonded with Alexander over their shared love of Iggy Pop.
From there the pair decided to begin working on a series of songs Williams had written.
The initial plan was to recruit a bassist and lead guitarist, but it became apparent the tracks delivered a greater punch as minimalist punk-garage songs, propelled along by Williams' brooding vocal.
"It all happened so weirdly, so we were obviously drawn to each other for a reason musically," she said.
Williams' first single I'm Your Man was released in March, followed by the slow-burning Sally, which tells the story of a girl "with legs like matchsticks", who after being sexually victimised for years, strikes back by shooting her abusers.
"The lyrics do contain a lot of frustration and anger," she says. "If I just focused on the anger and angst and the fight against the social issues that are in front of all of us, if I put just those emotions into the music it wouldn't get received. It would just be depressing.
"But if you can put a bit of a joke and a smile in there and treat everyone in the audience like you're telling them something individually - I'm still testing it out - I believe messages will get across."
Williams' belief in the power of lyrics was fostered by her mother and biggest influence, Corrinne Williams. As a child Williams had full access to her mother's extensive vinyl collection that contained everything from Shirley Bassey to Black Sabbath.
Mother and daughter were also Sunday regulars at the Catho [Catherine Hill Bay] Pub, "kicking up the dirt in front of the stage" to rock'n'roll bands.
"She really introduced me to songwriting and she wrote songs, but never played," Williams said.
"She's a beautiful writer and she taught me writing in a song. She didn't teach me, 'This is a good song, so bang your head and shake your hips', she taught me to listen to that lyric and 'How does that make you feel?' That's important."
Another major influence for Williams has been Hunter Valley singer-songwriter William Crighton.
On Sunday Williams and her partner and fellow Newcastle rocker Nicholas Connors completed the biggest tour of their budding careers when they supported Crighton throughout his east coast run alongside Irish powerhouse Amy Montgomery.
Crighton openly raves about Williams and Connors, as does Dashville chief Matt Johnston.
"Crighto is like a brother to me and my partner [Connors] and I sit in his backyard and have barbecues and his kids call us Aunty Ahlia and Uncle Nick, so for me I'm just hanging out with my mate," she said.
"We really believe in each other and even though our music is different, our messages come from really similar places in the mind."
Ahlia Williams supports Flight To Dubai at the Cambridge Hotel on October 25.